In the latest issue:

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick

SurrogacyTM

Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

Jia Tolentino

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

Countess BitchRobert Tombs
Close

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website (www.lrb.co.uk — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.


  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
Close
The Notorious Life of Gyp: Right-Wing Anarchist in Fin-de-Siècle France 
by Willa Silverman.
Oxford, 325 pp., £24, June 1995, 0 19 508754 2
Show More
Show More

Who was Gyp? A woman of many names: a sign, suggests Willa Silverman, of her often-expressed unhappiness with her identity, and especially her sex. She was born Sibylle de Riquetti de Mirabeau in 1849, but her family decided to call her Gabrielle when she reached13 because she was too plain for a Sibylle. Married in 1869, to become the Comtesse de Martel de Janville, she lamented that as a woman she could not perpetuate the Mirabeau name, which she often appended to her own. Brought up by a bluff military grandfather, she was in the full sense a garçon manqué, the girl whom everyone, including herself, wished had been a boy and a soldier. She was best known under her pen names, the boyish ‘Bob’ and the sexless ‘Gyp’ (a whiplash sound perhaps, or ‘gyno gone wrong’, suggests Silverman), and was a prominent, if lightweight, literary and political figure from the 1880s to the Twenties. The ‘countess bitch’ to her many enemies, she wrote over one hundred forgotten novelettes and plays. She is probably best remembered now for her political cartoons at the time of the Dreyfus Affair, reproduced in many books as samples of the savage and hysterical polemics of the time. It is regrettable that more of them are not reproduced here, especially those that are analysed in the text. Gyp’s skill and influence lay in the creation of unsubtle, memorable stereotypes, especially of ‘modern’ girls and of Jews. According to Charles Maurras she was, after Edouard Drumont (author of the notorious La France juive),‘the writer who fixed in the minds of French people the most powerful anti-semitic images’.

Her upbringing was provincial upper-crust, if also slightly bohemian. Though the name was historic – she was a grand-niece of the great Revolutionary orator, rake and bruiser – the Mirabeau family was not very rich and not very lucky. Although it was able to cut a modest dash in Nancy, there was no question of life in Paris society. Sibylle/Gabrielle’s mother began to write for pin money. Her father got himself killed accidentally as a volunteer in the Papal army. Her husband turned out to be a feckless nonentity who squandered her inheritance and had to be supported for the rest of his life. Like her mother, she turned to writing as first a useful and then an indispensable source of funds: society gossip and satirical dialogues for newspapers, the slangy irreverence of ‘Bob’, a French forerunner of Just William, and racy novels featuring the tragic adventures of slim, persecuted, upper-class, ‘devilishly boyish’ heroines.

Much of this was, of course, an endless rehashing of her own grudges and fantasies, but the prime motive was cash. Gyp (as she became in 1883) often repeated that it was hack work, dashed off at maximum speed and with minimum trouble: ‘Writing bores me to tears.’ Despite or because of this, it proved successful, and increasingly profitable: like P.T. Bamum, Gyp did not lose money by underestimating the intelligence of the public. She entered the small world of Parisian hommes de lettres (as she insisted on being considered), was sought after by the best publishers, held a salon at her house in semi-smart Neuilly, became acquainted with established literary stars such as Daudet, Dumas fils, Halévy and Goncourt and the promising novelists Anatole France and Maurice Barrès,who became one of her closest and most faithful friends. She held open house for her entourage during the summer in a villa on the Normandy coast. In short, she enjoyed remarkable literary success.

She also threw herself into the thrilling world of street politics, in which as an aristocrat and a woman she was a rare, though not unique, phenomenon. Contemptuous of parliamentary democracy, she leapt onto every passing reactionary bandwagon, seeking, Silverman tells us, a regime that was ‘charismatic, authoritarian, military and “male” ’. Napoleons I and III had been childhood heroes, but political involvement began only in middle age, in the wake of the dashing demagogue General Boulanger, in1888. After his rapid demise, she transferred her admiration to the nationalist poet and agitator Paul Déroulède, her hero during the Dreyfus Affair, during which she had the time of her life, devoting her talents as satirist and cartoonist to the anti-semitic cause. Finally, she gave grudging approval to the radical Clemenceau – ‘A real Frenchman, very distinguished and pedigreed’ for his wartime semi-dictatorship. For her, democracy and modernity were always detestably vulgar.

Is Gyp worth a biography, especially one as professional as this? Silverman has researched extremely thoroughly in public and private archives, the press and in the secondary literature. She writes with clarity and verve. She shows sensitivity and judgment and has a far sounder grasp of history, with the striking exception of everything military, than is usual among literary specialists. And there are picaresque episodes that give the story plenty of life: Gyp has vitriol thrown over her (no permanent damage) and she gets kidnapped and escapes (it turns out to be a practical joke). But she is so shallow as both writer and political activist, and often so irritatingly, wilfully stupid that I sometimes wondered how Silverman could put up with her. Had Gyp been a man, she probably wouldn’t have done. Gyp’s political allies, the cartoonist Forain (a far better draughtsman) and Déroulède (no better a writer but incomparably more important and interesting a political figure) would be unlikely to attract such scholarly attention. It is as a tough, successful, ill-used and indomitable woman making her way in a man’s world that Gyp manages to inspire some sympathy.

Sympathy, but not indulgence. For one thing, the claim sometimes made that Gyp was, both by her writings and her activities, a feminist pioneer, is given short shrift by Silverman. True, she condemned corsets and made her heroines unconventional; but this was a combination of aristocratic eccentricity and her tomboy upbringing rather than principle. She tried to keep her own name, but this was Mirabeau pride, not a blow for women’s rights. She legally separated her property from her husband’s, but this was only to ward off ruin. She made an independent career, but this was an unfortunate necessity. No feminist therefore; rather, a misogynist.

This is, for Silverman, the key that unlocks many doors: Gyp’s identity problems, her rejection of her own femininity, her anti-semitism, and in politics her worship of power and matching disdain for an ‘effeminate’ democratic Republic – ‘she would campaign actively to restore to her country the type of “male” authority she felt was lacking in her own life.’ Gender analysis, here spiced with a dash of Freud, is now fashionable and has some weighty supporters in France, including the historian Maurice Agulhon, whose analysis of the female imagery of the Republic is not dissimilar. It certainly explains Gyp rather neatly, and Silverman marshals much convincing evidence. Moreover – although this is not much explored here – it might cast some light on the interesting flirtation of several prominent and active feminists with the extreme Right, including the leading journalist Séverine (who remained remarkably indulgent of Gyp’s antics even when she changed sides) and the formidable Duchessed’Uzès. Gyp herself was wooed by a leading feminist newspaper, notwithstanding her fanatical anti-semitism, but she turned them down.

A classic weakness of biography and even more of psycho-history is that they explain in individual terms ideas, loyalties and activities that were collective. If Gyp’s admiration for Bonaparte and Boulanger was a consequence of self-hatred and a quest for masculinity, how do we explain that same admiration on the part of millions of other male and female Bonapartists and Boulangists? In fact it was common for Legitimists to gravitate to Bonapartism. Many upper-class conservatives were anti-semitic and most were anti-Dreyfusard. Gyp’s political prejudices were utterly commonplace and, like her writing, appear to have cost her little intellectual effort.

Political activism was a great lark. It also made her a celebrity, increasing her sales and advances, for she had a keen eye to the main chance. How relevant was her psyche to all this? I suspect that snobbery, fashion and a keen sense of ‘us’ and ‘them’ were what really decided Gyp’s political attitudes. Interestingly, this incandescent nationalist had got herself into embarrassing trouble in 1870 by hob-nobbing openly with German officers occupying Nancy. But they, of course, were ‘us’. Besides, nationalism, and not only in France, was always more concerned with enemies at home than enemies abroad: democrats, socialists, above all Jews.

Marxism seems at least as satisfactory an explanation as gender for the footling and irresponsible agitations of the anti-Dreyfusards and their hired bullies – a lumpenproletariat if ever there was one. Slumming was clearly a thrill for Gyp and other upper-class would-be populists, whether in Montmartre cabarets like the Chat Noir or in street brawls. She boasted that when recruiting her thugs during the Dreyfus Affair, ‘I always chose those who seemed to me the worst, the most “hooligan” ... They were the best, the gutsiest.’ People like the Marquis de Morès (another of Gyp’s macho heroes) and her cousin de Sabran-Pontevès teamed up with rabble-rousers like Jules Guérin, a rent-a-crowd entrepreneur who found anti-semitism a nice little earner. There is something of the ageing groupie in Gyp’s adoration of this succession of strutting misfits. It was platonic, however; she clearly had problems with sex, and both her husband and long-time lover were pretty self-effacing.

Gyp and her chums liked to think that the inverted snobbery of their anti-bourgeois extremism gave them an easy rapport with the mob – with the butchers’ boys from the La Villette slaughterhouses who were willing to earn a few extra francs beating up Dreyfusards – but the only rapport that counted was financial. Champagne and scent profits – easy money easily spent – were long to bail out the failing fortunes of the Right. The Duchesse d ’Uzès was the main paymaster. She had inherited the Veuve Clicquot millions, with which she hoped to smooth the way for a restored monarchy. A die-hard reactionary and leading feminist, tireless rider to hounds and France’s first woman motorist, she would be a marvellous subject for a biography. Eventually, like Gyp, she found rightwing agitation even more expensive and futile than foxhunting: the unspeakable in full pursuit of the unelectable.

Silverman is not quite so dismissive of Gyp’s political adventures as I am. She seems to accept Gyp’s sincerity – partly, perhaps, through trusting the account that Gyp later wrote. She accepts the anti-semites’ own inflated estimate of their active following. Perhaps I am being insensitive in not seeing Gyp as particularly hard done by or as deserving much sympathy. Being a woman, and an aristocrat, did no harm to her political or literary career. She had no difficulty in finding a profitable niche in the literary world, one that her talent scarcely merited. Her novelty value as a woman in politics brought enviable notoriety and at the same time a degree of protection in the rough and tumble. Her feminist friend Séverine tried to stop her being sued for her vicious slanders by pleading a double standard: they should be overlooked because she was only a ‘petite blonde woman with a mouselike air’. She got off quite lightly. In short, although Gyp thought she would have liked to be a man, she was skilful at exploiting the fact that she wasn’t one. That was the essence of her quasi-feminism.

The book is interesting for the insight it gives us into the Paris literary world and its workings. Crucial for Gyp was her association with her Jewish publishers, Calmann-Lévy, the most efficient, enterprising and remunerative of the day. This was a durable relationship, which Silverman traces through the voluminous correspondence in the publishing house’s archives. It was disturbed but not destroyed by the crude and insistent anti-semitism that she put into her novels from the 1880s onwards, and which they tried to tone down while still keeping her on their list. Though the partnership was based on mutual profit – they were generous with advances, she produced a very saleable product – there also seems to have been a certain ambivalent affection.

For all her ostentatious condemnation of bourgeois and Jewish materialism. Gyp had the ruthless avarice of hard-up gentility, and shamelessly milked Calmann-Lévy for advances. I would be curious to know more about her financial situation – there was income from rents as well as royalties – but perhaps the evidence is lacking. Her plucky readiness to pay all the family bills, and maintain, seemingly uncomplainingly, a parasitical husband whose only talent was for shooting, is admirable in its way. During the First World War, hit by inflation, age and reduced earning power, her lot becomes rather pathetic.

Yet even her tragedies involved a fecklessness more likely to inspire irritation than sympathy. Her favourite son, the destined heir of the dilapidated Château de Mirabeau and a cavalry subaltern, died in Africa from typhus caught in a cell to which he had been consigned after an unauthorised and hare-brained expedition which almost led to his troop being wiped out. (How lucky for France that these people never managed to organise a coup d’état.)

Gyp lived until 1932, writing and grumbling to the last. Her funeral attracted an interesting range of mourners, including André Maurois and Paul Valéry, the former socialist Dreyfusard Alexandre Millerand, the Duchesse d’Uzès,Marshal Lyautey – and of course a Calmann Lévy. Old age and the watershed of the First World War had calmed the old antagonisms, if only by creating new ones. Gyp had become merely a relic. ‘People awaited her latest novel,’one obituarist wrote, as they awaited ‘Willy’s latest pun, Boni de Casteilane’s latest frock coat ... Her ideas, like her writing, wear the colour of a bygone era – there is, in them, Art Nouveau arabesques, outdated Lalique ... an odour of ylang-ylang ... a glimmer of furs, of mutton-chop sleeves.’

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.